Y-K Delta communities mull options for National Guard armories

The Alaska Army National Guard armory in Stebbins is one of over 60 slated to be divested in rural Alaska. (Photo by Gabe Colombo/KNOM)

The state government wants to hand dozens of vacant Alaska Army National Guard armories — half of which sit in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta — to local communities.

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They were built during the Cold War years to monitor any suspicious activity from the nearby Soviet Union, but have been sitting vacant for about a decade.

The Native Village of Tuntutuliak uses its old armory for hardware storage.

The city of Napakiak will renovate its armory into a community multi-purpose building.

Twenty-six more communities in the Y-K Delta will soon make the decision about how to use their local armory.

“They’re not necessarily large, maybe 1,200 to 1,800 square feet, wooden construction, metal roof, probably metal siding, heating fuel tank on the outside,” Brian Duffy with the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs said.

With the Cold War long over, and Alaska Army National Guard recruitment plummeting, the old armories aren’t needed to conduct surveillance as they did in the past.

“What you would have, were pockets of people that served to look, see, feel, hear things in their communities that were different, and report back,” Duffy said.

The Department will not reap significant savings on maintenance or utilities by transferring these buildings.

“But what we are going to do is avoid what’s becoming, to a greater extent, a liability for the department and the community where you’ve got a building that’s sat vacant for some time,” Duffy said.

Such buildings can attract unwanted activity and relics have become liabilities to the military.

This has been more of a risk than an actual problem so far.

“But the longer they stay vacant, the greater the opportunity is,” Duffy said. “Our goal is to get them off our books and get them into the hands of an organization that can make better use of them than we are right now.”

Duffy encourages interested parties to get started early.

There’s no exchange of funds, but there is paperwork.

Any entity in the community that wants to accept the building. can if a federal agency doesn’t also want it.

Duffy suggests communities contact the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the General Services Administration of the federal government.

The goal is to divest more than 60 armories across the state over the next four years.

Each site will be inspected for pollutants.  And any site found to be contaminated or unclaimed by a community will be demolished.

Some armories in the Y-K Delta — including Bethel, Hooper Bay, Kipnuk, Kwethluk and Quinhagak — will be kept by the military as facilities to train and store equipment.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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